Baton Rouge --- On Wednesday a relaxed, almost joyful Trent Johnson addressed the media on the 2010-11 basketball season for the final time.
It was a different Johnson, a far cry from the frustrated and sometime disheveled coach who approached the microphone game after game over the past two seasons of 5-27 conference basketball.
“We all can take a deep breath, because now we have everything we need to have a good team,” Johnson said. “Why wouldn’t I be [chipper]? It can’t get any worse.”
Johnson has routinely brought up what he calls “the process”, and he made the next step very clear.
“I finally feel like we have a nucleus of guys with some experience and a talent level,” he said. “The bottom line for us moving forward is winning games, and that excites me.”
“Nobody is going to put more pressure on me to do my job than myself. I don’t worry about losing my job, and I don’t worry about my next job. I worry about doing my job. Quite frankly, the last year and a half, I haven’t done my job.”
Front Court Depth
LSU battled injuries and foul trouble all season on the front line. At times, the lack of depth allowed teams to score at will on the interior. LSU outscored their opponent in the paint just three times in 17 contests against SEC foes.
Enter Justin Hamilton and Johnny O’Bryant.
Hamilton sat and watched from the bench all season, ineligible after transferring from Iowa State. The 6-foot-11 Hamilton should provide physical and mental toughness, especially on the defensive end.
“Justin has been on the floor for two years in one of the premiere conferences in America,” Johnson said. “Four out of seven days at practice he’s probably been one of our better players.”
O’Bryant, LSU’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2005 [Tasmin Mitchell], is being heralded as the signee that could change the fortune of the entire program.
“What we have to understand is that there are a rare few high school kids who are at this level of conditioning and ready for school, a rare few,” Johnson said. “We need to be patient with him. Let’s just judge him when he steps out the door, whether it’s two years or whether it’s three years from now.”
O’Bryant turned down a chance to play for the Under 19 USA Basketball team this summer in an effort to get to campus in Baton Rouge and begin taking classes and adjusting to college life.
LSU’s top two scorers on the season were freshmen backcourt mates Andre Stringer (11.2) and Ralston Turner (12.3).
Fellow freshman Matt Derenbecker scored in double figures eight times in 12 games during SEC play.
A year older, a year stronger and a year more confident, those three will carry the load in the backcourt once again.
“They understand the opportunity,” Johnson said of the trio. “I expect them to improve a lot physically, mentally, and from a skill standpoint.”
Stringer struggled with defense and shot selection at times during his freshman campaign, but his headman understands that growing pains are to be expected in year one of SEC play.
“I feel really good about Andre Stringer,” Johnson said. “For him to compete against some players he competed against, for him to stay the course, I feel really good about him. There is way too much attention focused on him. As a team, collectively, we didn’t take care of the ball.”
Subtraction AND Addition?
Johnson announced Tuesday that Aaron Dotson and Daron Populist will be transferring from the program.
Dotson will return closer to his native Seattle to be with his ailing mother.
“I’ve had a great experience at LSU,” Dotson said in a news release. “I want to thank Coach Johnson for the opportunity to play at LSU and in the SEC, but with my mother’s situation at this time, I feel it’s best for me to get closer to home. I wish nothing but the best for LSU.”
Populist, a walk-on who joined the team in 2009, will leave to pursue a scholarship opportunity elsewhere.
Johnson acknowledged that he is recruiting backcourt players this spring in addition to signee John Isaac.
“Obviously, we need a perimeter player,” Johnson said. “We need the best possible player we can get, and that’s always going to be the case. [Junior College] maybe. Could be one, could be two.”